Postcards from The Archipelago

Deep sea was the wandering,
deep brass the dripping loot,
deep crimson the bloodspill,
lyrics begotten on lush lips
and many a hawser they saw—
rotting rope and rusting chain
and anchors…many lost anchors.

—Carl Sandburg

Finished painting the first of that small batch of journal cases (covers) I made recently. It’s called Postcards from The Archipelago, and this is the second time I’ve painted these designs on a cover; the first time was for a little journal that I gave to my Belovéd.

It’s a very special little pair of paintings I’ve put on here, full of significance, wonderful memories, and love, love, love…so now I don’t want to sell it! I won’t be in a  hurry to sell it, anyway…it must go to someone who really resonates with it…someone who has lived close to the sea, or has lain in the dark at night listening to the ‘bulge and nuzzle’ of the waves, has loved a pirate, has “sailed away for a year and a day”…or someone who has pulled up his/her anchors (or is about to) and is open to the adventure that life can become when you don’t know where you’re going, only that you’ve got to go…

*Is she serious?* Okay, I can hardly insist on these conditions…(can’t you just see me, though, interviewing prospective buyers? *crazy laugh*) I guess all I am trying to say is:     I love this one so much and I hope someone out there will love it, too. You’ll find it in my Etsy and Madeit shops very soon.

The story behind the covers…

There’s a golden compass on the spine, surrounded by curling tendrils of seaweed. The cover paintings both have landscape formats (to look like postcards), so that either side can be the ‘front’ of this journal (and I’ve put ‘headbands’ on both ends of the book, so you can decide which is front for you).

On one cover is my version of an old woodblock print showing a sea monster attacking a ship. I love the old accounts of monsters and terrors of the deep, love the fact that they were made in all seriousness, to illustrate real accounts made by sailors and travelers. When I met Kris he was in the process of compiling an old-fashioned bestiary of fantastic creatures from all over the world. He had stacks of research, and had painstakingly done a painting for every creature on his list. I loved that he would devote so much of his time and energy doing something purely personal, entirely for his own pleasure and of no immediate use to anyone else at all.

Beside the sea monster vignette is a tiny map of the Bacuit Archipelago, which is where Kris and I met, and where we lived in a fisherman’s hut on the beach for many years. That little boat with the Chinese junk rig is Kehaar, Kris’ sailboat. On the bit of land to the right, just under the name El Nido, hic sunt leonis (here there be lions) marks the spot where we lived, with our two fat cats (lions!) ruling that part of the jungle.

On the other cover are fragments of Carl Sandburg’s poem, and a painting of Kehaar on the sea at night. The little portholes glow with the light of candles inside, a fingerail-paring of moon hangs overhead, and the sky is salted with stars.

When Kris decided that he wanted to return to Australia after 13 years being away, we made the trip by sailboat. It took us five weeks to reach East Timor, and another 10 days from Timor to Darwin, Australia. Kris has a lot of respect for the men who crossed the world’s oceans in the days before the engine was invented, and he likes that kind of old-fashioned self-reliance. Hence, Kehaar is just a sailboat. There is no engine on board. There is no GPS, radio, EPIRB, toilet, lights or electricity on board, either, for that matter.

It was Real Sailing: perfectly silent, isolated, and oftentimes, slow. Time opened like origami…we had time…plenty of time. There was no need to hurry…what for? Three days without wind meant we sat on deck in patches of shade, talking or doing some small, intricate chore, just trying to stay busy until the wind picked up again. Kris wrote for his book or drew monsters and patterns in the borders of his sailing charts; I sat embroidering, or reading. We spent hours staring at the horizon, sometimes. At night, when it was my turn to steer, I had conversations with myself, sang every song I knew—a lot of Basia, isn’t that daggy?—wished on shooting stars (there were hundreds) and tried to learn the major constellations. Herds of whales would surface around us and blast smelly water into the air; pods of dolphins raced with us when we were going fast; sea birds—boobies, mainly—hung around for days, resting en route to god-knows-where. We saw turtles the size of picnic tables (before they saw us…another advantage to sailing without an engine!) and lots of sea snakes. Sharks trailed behind us in some seas. One night while I was steering in a strong wind, something big (the size of our boat) swam beside us for half an hour (the sea is pitch dark, but when the tiny bits of plankton are disturbed, they emit a bright glow or phosphoresence that will reveal the outline of larger fish, dolphins, anything moving fast enough to alarm the little guys) and it scared me a bit!

It was a big adventure, and a big move for me, but Kris had given (a somewhat trying) life in the Third World a go, for my sake, so I thought it was only fair that I spend some time in his country. It was difficult at first, took me a year to find my own place in the scheme of things. But I’ve fallen in love with Oz, and Darwin in particular, and there are no plans of sailing away again for a long while!

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5 thoughts on “Postcards from The Archipelago

  1. Those journals are GORGEOUS, and I love the stories behind them. And did I mention the journals are gorgeous?!! [g]

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  2. Ah, Nat, my friend, how can you ask me not go all “fan-girly” on you when you make such beautiful objects and write such beautiful words? 🙂

    Having said that, I really, really love this journal. I’d offer to buy it if I had the money to spare, but then if I did, I’d probably be too scared to use it because it looks too pretty to use, and that would be a shame. I’d probably just keep it on my bedside table (the way I have the other marbled journal I bought from your brother when you left for Australia), stare at the cover for hours and imagine having adventures in a Narnian sea. 🙂

    When I worked for a short while in Mindanao in 1999, I made frequent overnight trips on the huge passenger ships that crisscrossed the waters between Ozamis and Cebu. I would usually find a dark, quiet spot on the deck, listen to my Walkman, and watch the waves pounding against the hull. I was fascinated by the bio luminescent plankton that the ships would leave in their wake, too, and spent hours watching them. Members of the ship’s crew would frequently stop their rounds and talk to me for long stretches of time, asking all sorts of questions about who I was or where I was headed or why I was alone. At the time, I always found their questions strange and funny, and it took me several years to realize that at least some of them must have been trying to assess if I were a potential jumper or not. 😛

    Hay, memories. 🙂

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    1. I did the viajera thing often, too, on the ferries between El Nido and Manila…mall ones, these were just ‘batels’…floating crates that smelled of dried squid, and there were carabaos in the hold, too. I dunno about the jumper thing, Marns…has it ever occurred to you that these all male crewmen have bunks of their own? I spent hours with them, as well, playing cards and drinking Ginebra…I think they were trying to see which one of them would get me in his bunk that night. Hah. But man, I could drink, oh heck, I used to be able to drink seamen under the table! 😉 Memories, you said it! I miss it, tuloy. And you. And, I dunno, being 24, I guess.
      Hugs, Nat

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      1. No, it never occurred to me that they were trying to get me in bed, actually, but now that you mention it… ROFL! 😀

        I was a late bloomer when it came to those things, so it never really crossed my mind unless the overtures were particularly heavy-handed. I was also carrying a well-lit torch for someone back then, so no else stood a chance. Good God, I was such an innocent! Haha!

        Grabe, I totally agree with you. I miss traveling and being 24 and you, too. Pucha, inuman na to pag uwi mo! Hugs back! 😀

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